A mention for Matsumoto
While I wasn't able to explore Matsumoto in any real detail, I did get the chance to relish a two night encounter with the city on a recent trip to Nagano Prefecture.
My main purpose for visiting Matsumoto was to use it as a base for seeing Jigokudani Yaen-Koen , although I do regret not having been able to spend a little more time there.
I arrived in Matsumoto at around 11:30pm on Wednesday 28th December 2011 and the first thing that struck me about the city was its warm, virbrant atmosphere against what was a relatively cold (-2 °C) background.
After checking into my hotel (which was conveniently located just accross from Matsumoto Station), I decided to take a wander through Matsumoto's main high street (which is,by the way, also located directly opposite Matsumoto Station). The street scene which greeted me was much more alive than I had initially anticipated; I had been expecting a sleepy small-time, charming only-by-day Japanese castle town, but I was instead confronted by a Shintoist Monk ringing out traditional end-of-year chants at the top of the high street, and numerous groups of high-spirited friends standing around and taking in the crisp, winter air outside convenience stores and karaoke venues. There were also a number of bustling open-windowed bars overlooking the surprisingly (for me) vibrant Matsumoto atmosphere.
As alluring as it is, Matsumoto's main attraction is not its nightlife, that title belongs to Matsumoto-jō (Matsumoto Castle). I only had a total of about three full, early-morning hours of daylight to enjoy in Matsumoto, so I wasn't able to a pay a visit to the castle, but being one of only four castles in Japan to be designated as a ' National Treasure of Japan' it does come highly recommended.